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Montenegro Promises to Compensate for Publishing Self-Isolators’ Names

Montenegrin army officers guarding quarantine in the town of Niksic. Photo: Government of Montenegro

Government confirms it will pay a total of 816,000 euros to 2,720 citizens for violating their right to privacy after publishing their names on the list of people ordered to self-isolate during 2020.

Montenegro’s government confirmed on Monday that it will pay compensation of 300 euros each, of a total of 816,000 euros, to citizens on the list of people ordered to self-isolate during 2020 whose names were published.

According to government data, 2,720 persons filed lawsuits against the state for publishing their names on lists of people ordered to self-isolate.

“Last December, the government agreed to pay 300 euros each in damages to every citizen whose name was published on those lists. The compensation will be paid for violation of personal rights by publishing personal data,” the government told BIRN.

Podgorica-based lawyer Dalibor Kavaric, who represented most of the citizens filing lawsuits, said the government had violated their human rights despite its claims that this was done in the public interest.

“The state has an obligation to protect the rights of every citizen even when it comes to the public health interest. When those lists were published, there was increased fear in the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of that, those people were stigmatized, as they were presented as a public threat,” Kavaric told BIRN.

“We are not satisfied with the amount of compensation, as it should be at least ten times higher,” he added.

The government published the names on March 21, 2020, during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite warnings from opposition parties and civic society organisations that it risked violating their constitutionally guaranteed human rights. They also warned that citizens whose names were published might sue the state.

The government insisted it had a right to publish the names because some citizens were not respecting self-isolation obligations.

It said it had approval for its actions from the Agency for Personal Data Protection. It also stressed that the security forces could not control every citizen who should be in self-isolation and that anyone who failed to self-isolate posed a threat to the community.

On March 22, 2020, then Prime Minister Dusko Markovic said no compromises would be made with those who violated preventative measures amid the pandemic. He also warned that the government would continue to publish the names of citizens who had been ordered to self-isolate.

“The lives of our citizens are the priority. We have estimated that the right to health and life is above the right to unconditional protection of personal data,” Markovic said.

But after the Civic Alliance NGO submitted an appeal to the Constitutional Court, on July 23, 2020, the court annulled the government’s decision to publish the names of citizens ordered to self-isolate – although it did not rule that the government had violated their rights. The government then removed the list from its website.

In last year’s progress report, the European Commission urged Montenegro to award compensation for the publication of the names, warning that the government had violated people’s constitutional right to privacy.

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